30 August 2022

Money Money Money

My local High Street boasts four national banks and a handful of building societies. Until recently, that is. Two of the building societies (Santander and Halifax) have recently closed and the branch of the bank where I hold my main account (HSBC) is closing this week, meaning I shall have to go further afield to do any in-bank transactions or speak to a real person. 

Over the weekend, I had been going through my wardrobe and throwing out quite a lot of clothes I had not used in a decade or three - always hoping some items might come back into fashion, but now accepting that I would never wear them again.  In so doing, I came upon a single suit of Greg's that I had hung on to out of sentimental reasons and decided now was the time to give it away to charity. As I checked through the pockets I found an old £5 note. 

Today,  while I was in the High Street, I tried to exchange the  old £5 note for a valid one. I decided to pop into my bank for one last time, before it closes its doors. Sadly, my bank told me that whilst it would still be valid to exchange it, they no longer had the counter services to do so , just machines to pay in,  machines to pay out and machines to do minor transactions, so they could not help. I went to two other banks who said exactly the same. They no longer have counter services and only machines and therefore could not exchange the £5, although in theory they were still accepting them. They advised me to to go to a bigger bank in a busier part of London that still has counter services.

I read in the newspaper the other day that by 2027 cash will more than likely be phased out completely. Too many transactions are done now by debit card or credit card and since the  pandemic, cards have become more and more the way to pay.  Transactions are done online and there is no need for real money. It is fine for me as I am computer savvy, but for many elderly people it will cause immense problems. 

It got me musing that in future the grandchildren will not only ask, "Did you see any dinosaurs when you were little , Granny?" but also "Did you really pay for things with little metal coins and paper notes?" We have had cash for centuries and centuries, but it seems modern technology will eradicate that entirely.

16 August 2022

Fully fledged

I failed to post a couple of weeks ago that Kay became a fully fledged member of the Royal College of Physicians. To enter their hallowed portals, the doctors have to sit three very stringent and complicated exams. You cannot sit the second exam until you have passed the first and so on, and need to pass all three. Kay's friend has failed the first one six times and is stuck in limbo. I hasten to add that you have to pay an eye-watering fee to sit these exams. Kay managed to pass all three over a period of a few years, in between working hard as a junior doctor, and received the news  back in 2019 that she could now call herself a Member of the Royal College of Physicians and use the MRCP after her name. However, the official ceremony to welcome her into this honoured institution was due in  the summer of 2020 and was subsequently cancelled because of Covid restrictions. She has been waiting all this time for the ceremony to be scheduled and that was three weeks ago. Her fiance, Darcy, and I went along for moral support. The day was tinged slightly by the absence of her father, Greg, as I am sure he would have been chuffed to ribbons to be there. We just hope he was looking down on us and in fact there was an unusual line in the President's closing speech which Greg would often use, so we felt he was there.

The College is part modern (having been built by the same architect as the South Bank complex) and part old buildings in pristine condition rented out by the Royal Household. The Royal College was founded by Henry VIII in 1518 and has just celebrated its 504th anniversary. In the 1500s medical practice in England was poorly regulated. Many ‘physicians’ were working with no formal training or knowledge, and almost certainly killed as many patients as they cured. The leading physicians of the early 16th century wanted the Crown to grant licenses to those with actual qualifications and to standardise practice and so the Royal College was set up. God help anyone who crossed Henry VIII's path! Over the years, the College has been situated in different parts of London, including in the City of London, but now resides alongside Regent's Park.

Here are a few photos I took on the day.

The new

The old

A whole street, no less

Learn this information off by heart

The ceremony - spot Kay!

Old pharmacy jars

10 August 2022


WFH. Another modern abbreviation creeping into our language. It stands for 'Working From Home', a concept born of necessity during the many Covid lockdowns we have had over the last few years. It has changed people's (and employer's) views about whether it is necessary to work in the workplace any more.  People have found they can move out of the cities and live in the countryside or even abroad and still carry out their work  from the comfort of their home.  Spare bedrooms have been converted into offices or grand outbuildings built at the end of the garden to house an office. One suspects that they work in their pyjamas, start their day at 11am instead of 9am, finish at 3pm instead of 5pm and have two hours for lunch or have half an eye on daytime TV. 

Of course there are some professions where it is not possible. Like Kay's for example - she is a hospital doctor - there is no way she can work from home.  She has been working in the hospital every week since the first mention of Covid back in early 2020.  Shopkeepers can't work from home. Nor can firemen, aeroplane pilots, plumbers, or public transport workers. There are many more who cannot stay at home to carry out their work.

However, Working From Home seems to suit a lot of office workers who just need a phone and a computer to connect to their work base and to the wider public. Among this motley crew are the civil servants of this realm. Now, I was a civil servant in my working career, so I know how things work and run in the Westminster corridors. In my day, I was a floor or two beneath the Ministers and would often have to pop up to brief them before their visits round the UK or abroad, if they needed  further questions answered. I suppose nowadays, they can get round that with an email and with zoom meetings instead, but even so, the response should be immediate. Which brings me on to my big grouse.... everything these days seems to take an age for what was once a simple procedure. It has been much widely publicised that various businesses and government departments (especially the Passport Office and DVLA) seem to take an age to process paperwork with the excuse that staff are working from home. We are supposed to forgive them, be patient and understand this delay. But why? Lockdowns are long gone, things are back to normal, we are being told masks are not really mandatory any more in shops or on public transport and we should go back to normal and live alongside Covid. So, if staff working from home are causing delays to the running of the system, then why have them working at home? We should not accept that an easy peasy lifestyle for the office worker will inconvenience the public or slow down an otherwise slick process.

My grouse is personal. I have been on the receiving end of this WFH malarkey.  Living alone and in a house with five flights of stairs, I am conscious that one false move could have me bouncing down stairs and ending in an unconscious gibbering heap for days on end. To that aim, back in the New Year, I decided it would be prudent to apply for Power of Attorney, so that, should anything ghastly happen to me, my daughter could make decisions about my health and finances.  I sent off for the two forms for Health and Finance, filled them out, got signatures witnessed, paid £164 to cover the two forms, and posted them on 31 January to the Office of the Public Guardian(OPG), the civil service body that deals with this. Bear that date in mind, because, dear reader, it will become very crucial to my story. So how long, do you think it takes to process this sort of application. A week? A month? Two months? Take a wild guess.

So, here I am on 10 August and still waiting. That's six and a half months!

The first indication that the application had even been received was around late February when the £164 came out of my bank account, so from that I assumed that they must have received everything, not that they bothered to tell me. Another couple of months went by and in April I tried to ring OPG to find out what was happening to my case.  The answerphone said I was 69 in the queue and every so often interjected to say that staff were working home from home and begged my patience to hold on. After 20 minutes I had made it to 67 in the queue and guessed I'd be on the phone all day at that rate, so hung up and emailed them. I received a holding email to say, again, that I should be patient  as staff were working from home yada yada and their reply would take 25 working days. Some 25 working days or even later, their email said they were working on it.

In mid May, both Kay (the person who would act for me in the event of my demise) and I received letters to say that the application would be approved, if nobody objected within 3 weeks. However, they had spelled Kay's surname incorrectly, despite it being correct on the application form and the same surname as mine. We felt we needed to draw their attention to that, as almost certainly some jobsworth in the future would say the document was not legally binding. Kay rang them up to discover she was 71 in the queue. Working in a hospital these days means she doesn't even have time for a toilet break, let alone to hang on the phone indefinitely, so she emailed OPG to point out the error. She received a reply that she would hear back from them in - you've guessed it - 25 working days. 

Finally, the OPG-registered authorisation of my application duly arrived at the beginning of June - with the incorrect spelling of Kay's surname. At that point I just blew a gasket. I emailed their complaints department and received a holding reply that they would answer within 10 working days. I am STILL WAITING for this some 40 days later. 

Ten days ago, I had had enough, I wrote a letter to the Chief Executive firing all the bullets I could muster. I'm still waiting for his/her response. Maybe he/she is working from home too.

01 August 2022

One of those days

Do you ever have one of those days when by 9am, you wish you'd stayed in bed?

I needed to go to the post office first thing this morning to post two parcels of things I had sold on ebay. As I had been using a local post office a lot recently and was embarrassed to go in yet again with a load of parcels, I decided to drive further afield to another post office about 2 miles away (and thereby charge the car battery). There is paid parking around that post office so I decided to park in the forecourt of the adjacent small Tesco petrol station, except, when I got there, the forecourt was roped off as a huge petrol tanker was there filling up the pumps. Rather disgruntled, I had to pay for parking after all and entered the post office as they opened.  As I got to the counter, the post mistress told me the computer was down and she could not take the parcels. I'd paid for parking for nothing!

I set off for the post office I usually go to and posted them there. I could have saved myself  time and money, going there in the first place after all.

Meanwhile I am still elated from last night's football game. I am always a bit on the fence when there are games with England v Germany, as I am half and half myself, but I was heartily pleased we won. We did much better than the men's team. Who said women aren't as good as men? To think a century ago we weren't even allowed to play!